On the one hand, economic inequality is closely related to inequalities in health and access to health services. This effect was most clearly manifested in the United States and Latin America, where mortality from coronavirus is higher in socially vulnerable segments of the population. In Russia, this is manifest in contrasts in the availability of medical services and social support from region to region. On the other hand, although the risks of job loss for the first time were associated not so much with the workers as with the sectors in which they worked, the ability to work remotely without a reduction wages is still a privilege available to few workers, particularly those with higher qualifications and with human capital. The quality of life in conditions of self-isolation amid restrictive measures turns out to be strongly associated with whether the family has a suburban home, extra computers, good Internet access, and their own car. Therefore, the pandemic and the crisis as a whole hit, of course, not the relatively stable middle class, but those who are poorer, but not poor enough to receive state support.
In this regard, it seems risky that after the first wave, the support of the population in Russia was limited to a New Year's gift for families with children under seven years old. The fact is that personal incomes declined in Russia from 2015 to 2018, while growth in 2019 was very moderate. The 2020 crisis only exacerbated this trend. The lack of systemic support for income leads to the depletion of savings and an increase in the population's debt pressure, and creates risks of both a decrease in the quality of life and an increase in social tension.
At the same time, the pandemic hasn’t eliminated existing, well-known challenges to state welfare systems: despite the higher risks of dying from coronavirus at an older age, it is obvious that the aging population will remain with us after the pandemic. The speed and scale of changes in the nature of employment, associated not only with the development of the service sector, but also with technological changes, will obviously intensify under the influence of the pandemic. At the same time, the old models of social protection work poorly with non-standard forms of employment. Thus, in terms of social risks, the pandemic does not so much create a new world as it exposes the problems of the old one.
Therefore, ideally, the coming years should become a period of transformation of previous approaches to social policy. First of all, obviously, this relates to healthcare. In a state welfare system, special programmes are needed that will allow for the targeted support of the most needy - regardless of what impoverished them, but at the same time not eliminating the resources of the non-poor social strata, which have diminished due to the economic crisis. In most European countries, guaranteed minimum income programmes serve this purpose. Spain created such a programme during the pandemic. In Russia, where the effectiveness of social assistance programmes remains low, the economic crisis provoked by the pandemic may inspire the creation of such a programme. New approaches are also required to how to integrate new categories of workers into insured and non-insured social support programs - for example, those who work in the platform economy. An equally trivial task is how to balance personal and work life in the context of expanding distance employment in order to maintain the health and productivity of workers from home. And finally, a task that will take more than social policy to resolve - how to reduce excess inequality, both at the national and global levels.
However, the search for new institutional solutions in the social sphere is hardly possible in the context of the ongoing economic crisis, which exacerbates the struggle for budget resources. Therefore, the faster all countries, including Russia, recover from the current crisis, the more hope there is that the pandemic will become not a source of growing global social tension and new social problems, but rather an additional incentive to develop a new social model for the 21st century.